RW197 - The Lonely Gatsby

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John not wanting to live in a house that was built primarily to receive guests because he would be lost in there.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Japanese fishing floats and Native American trinkets as decorative elements (RW197)

John is looking at some Japanese fishing floats. They are a popular decorative element in the Northwest and someone sent John a couple the other day, but he had never actually owned one of his own. They have been decorative elements throughout John’s whole life to such an extent that it never occurred to him to have them himself because they seemed kitschy, but the more he learns about them, the more he thinks they are groovy.

Where do you fall when something that once was kitschy starts to seem groovy? Does that mean that you have become susceptible to kitsch or that you know enough now to redefine kitsch? It is tough, because all of those things are true! It is like you live in Texas and you suddenly start to feel that a garden cutout of a man in a cowboy hat and a woman in a bonnet who is bending over in the garden and you can see her frilly underpants, a Texas style garden gnome, have a long history and they are wonderful. John is not saying they are equivalent, but…

Japanese fishing floats are like a ball wrapped in braided rope and they look very pretty. In Ye’Olden Times the ancient fishermen would hand-blow a glass ball, seal it with air inside, wrap it in a net of like a little braided bag, and then they would attach those to their fishing nets to keep their fishing nets up before there were plastic buoys. This was a somewhat fragile system and these glass balls would get loose and they would float across the ocean and you could find them on Pacific Northwest beaches, it was a beachcomber thing.

They haven't been practically used in decades, but they have been floating across the ocean. As soon as one of those nets degrades or breaks, they are floating in the Pacific, and right now in the Pacific Ocean there are these 50-70 year old glass fishing floats, just bobbing along, waiting to show up on some Oregon beach and get beachcombed and then sold to you for $5 at a roadside trinket stand, at least that is what it was.

You used to bring them home and put them in your garden or on a shelf. They are beautiful because they are these hand blown little objects, and they are hand-blown glass that has a practical application, so they are not made intentionally to be beautiful, but they have accidental beauty, which is so appealing to those of us who decorate in the Japanese style.

Japanese decorative arts have always been a part of the Pacific Northwest style of architectural design. Within the global community of the Pacific Rim, the whole area from Seattle all the way up around Alaska to the Aleutians and down into the Asian seafaring cultures, there is a sense of common shared cause. That awareness is both ancient and also fairly recent modern.

When John was a kid a lot of people decorated their homes in Pacific Northwest Native American art forms. The oldest versions of those were authentic native stuff that the original settlers just took. They rolled up on a village and were like: ”That is a cool totem pole!” and just took it, not realizing its significance. The nations of the Tlingit and the Haida and the Nootka and the Snohomish, all the local tribes, figured out pretty early that they could make stuff to trade, make traditionally decorated items and sell them to Europeans.

When John was young every well-decorated house had like a some sort of Tlingit art, for example a carved box or a little totem, and there were textile arts, too. The Cowichan sweaters that John wears are all native handicraft from Vancouver Island. It was part of the way of the Pacific Northwest, which was far away from the rest of the United States and excluded from the United States until after the World's Fair. It was a regional culture. They also had a lot of Japanese and Chinese immigrants here dating back to the 19th century, so the Northwest Bungalow style often has real Asian aspects to it, little details, little turn-ups, and there are a lot of people decorating their homes with a Japanese garden style. It has been a cross-pollination for a long time.

John always admired it because it was how sophisticated people decorated, like his aunt. When they got money they went to Asia and bought some 200 year old gilt room screens and they had a 300 year old kimono on the wall, it was a thing that made you recognize that these were sophisticated people. Here in Seattle there is the Asian Art Museum, which has incredible collection of jades and textile art.

John working as a door to doos canvasser in Washington DC (RW197)

One of the formative moments for John as a collector / decorator was when he was working in Washington D.C. as a door to door canvasser for the Public Interest Research Group and then the National Environmental Law Center, the worst basic activist work where you go in a neighborhood with your clipboard and you ring doorbells and you say: ”Hi, do you have a minute to talk about the Clean Air Act?” and most people go: ”No, I don't!”, but every 5th person is like: ”Yeah okay, what?” - ”We are working to pass the Clean Air Act and here is what it would mean and here is how your support would help…”

John was very committed to it for a while and he enjoyed the work. He doesn’t really have that kind of personality and every time he walked up to a new doorbell he shuddered, but once he got talking to people he loved talking about the Clean Air Act. Only later did he start to ask: We are asking these people for $35 as a basic donation, $15 if you want to shortchange us, and $50 if you really want to go for it, but where is all this money going and what is it doing? It was going to lobby Congress.

John was getting promoted within that organization and became a team leader and then a group manager and they asked him if he wanted to end up working here in Washington with them, and he did, but the more time he spent with the next tier up, the more he realized they were lobbying, which means spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill and buying people dinners and it started to feel sketchy and not transparent.

What does that mean of the money goes to lobbying? Where does it go exactly? John spent three months getting $35 at a time which made up tens of thousands of dollars, and do they blow it all on a weekend in Vegas? He got a little disillusioned. When he was really into it, what he loved about Washington DC was you would ring the doorbell in some of these neighborhoods and be invited into incredible universes of people who had lived their lives in government, often State Department people who had been stationed overseas in embassies and who had traveled the world on behalf of the US government.

They were a class of intellectual sub-diplomats, they knew a lot about the world, they knew a lot about the places they had been, but there was a humility to them. They were doing this in service of the United States. They weren't doing it to get rich or to parlay their knowledge into anything else. To have a life in the State Department and to retire from it and live humbly in Chevy Chase, Maryland was its own reward, there didn't need to be more.

John would see what it looked like to have lived an eclectic and international life and if you invite him into your entryway and he sees something hanging on the wall he is going to say: ”Wow, tell me about that! What is that?” and every once in a while he would get a live one, some 65-year old lady who would explain that this was a mask from this tribe and she was stationed there back in the 1960s and he worked alongside US Aid and that was given to her by the this than and the other.

The stories that they had about the things they brought back and the way that their homes were decorated in that very jumbled, eclectic style. They didn’t have a water buffalo head mounted over their fireplace and 50 gazelles, but they were people that had all these little statues and masks and tapestries and things that they had found not just in a trinket shop, but they had been given these things by the local people for working with them. It conjured in John’s imagination at the time all these potential lives to lead.

Fairly frequently he would get invited into a home and he would strike up a conversation, and when he should have just been collecting their money and headed back out to go to the next house, he would stay and they would give him a cup of tea and he would sit and ask them questions about their lives and careers and a lot of them still worked in government, they weren't retired, but this was them in mid-life.

When John thinks about decorating his own home in a particular style rather than decorating it with just the things that he has touched in his life and brought home, it feels much more foreign to him to say: ”I am going to decorate with some Japanese elements!” because he has never been to Japan and brought anything back, so it wouldn't feel like his honest home, but he has been thinking a lot about how to express an aesthetic without it reading largely as clutter to most people. John’s old house all was part and parcel and you would have to spend weeks walking around and looking at the face of every little statue in that house and then ask him questions about it to fully understand why everything was there.

John being 20 years old and not getting into universities (RW197)

When John was 20 years old he felt really stymied. He didn't know what he was going to do in life, he didn't have any real feeling of confidence that he could ascend to the level of someone that did something interesting. He went to college campuses, but he himself wasn't in college and in a way he didn't feel like he was at that level. He always knew he was smart and capable, but he would walk around the University of Colorado or the University of Maryland or Rutgers or something, and all the students would be there doing student stuff and they would all be his age, but he had a huge lack of confidence and would look at these other kids and felt like he wasn't invited there.

A lot of it had to do with the strange energy around college admissions you get as a Junior in High School. During that period John really took it personally. There were colleges he could get into and there were a lot of colleges he couldn't, and because his grades were the worst the number of colleges he could get into was small relative to the total number of colleges. The University of Colorado would have been impossible for him to get into. It was a big state school full of all kinds of Ding Dongs, and the idea that he couldn't get in there made him feel like everybody there occupied a station that was outside of his grasp. During that period he didn't even know what he could do to one day get into the University of Colorado.

John couldn't imagine going to community college, building up credits, getting his math requirements and then applying and getting rejected and trying again. None of that felt doable, but that is eventually what he did to get into the University of Washington, and exercise his family connections and all the things that you do to get into college if you are a loser who is also a scion.

John not yet living in his new house, looking for the right bathroom tile (RW197)

John doesn’t live in his current house yet. All of this is potential energy, it is all nascent, and John doesn’t have a place to answer these questions in operation, but he only has imaginary walls.

Looking for the right house

The problem has been that when John was searching for houses he got a picture in mind of the system of a house and its place. He looked at dozens and dozens of homes, he searched for houses for over a year, and he would look at them online and already say: ”No!”, or he would walk into a place, walk around, and say: ”No!” although to his real estate agents and to the people in his family who were joining him on this great adventure all these places seemed to meet most of his criteria, to John it was clear that they couldn't be more wrong.

In a lot of those cases they had been inartfully modded, the character was drained out of them along the way in ways that would have been impossible to inject it back in, but a lot of them were homes that were too modest to begin with, not modesty in the sense of scale or ritziness, but modest in the sense of not having ambition. The house wasn't trying to be more than a home, anything other than an enclosure, albeit a comfortable one, a cozy one, in some cases a cute one and sometimes a striking one. He did find some that were really inspired, but they had often been carelessly treated or they were inspired in a way that didn't sit with him.

About a year ago John found a house that was not what he was looking for. It was a more modern house from the 1990s and it was extremely dramatic and hadn't been cared for, but it showed all this possibility that maybe he could make it into a place that had aspirations that were bigger than initially intended, or maybe it was intended and then they didn't have the money to finish it off or they didn't have the vision to finish it off. John actually made an offer and the offer was accepted and he was going to move in, but at the last minute he realized that this house was all aspiration and there was nothing practical about it. It was not a cozy home, it was all Sturm und Drang.

When John pictured himself in it he realized that he also needed a home, privacy, and special places, places to hide. He saw so many houses where the house had been designed to entertain. The private spaces were second thoughts and the energy in the architecture was all focused on inviting people in and and wowing them with your public space. There were a couple of houses that he just loved because you could stand there and just picture the cocktail parties that had happened there in the 1960s, where everybody from the board came to the Christmas party and everyone from the Junior League had come for Easter, and you could just see people standing in all the different little conversation nooks and spilling their drinks and laughing, redolent of hairspray and cigarettes.

But John realized in looking at those houses that this is not how he lives. The number of times that he is going to have 80 people in his house, maybe once in his life will he ever volunteer his house as the place to have the big party. It is not how he uses his space, but he goes hide over here and then he moves over and hides over here. His house is a place with 6-10 different little places for him to go and hide, it is the only word to describe it.

Although John can picture himself in these glamorous places, he would be one of those Lonely Gatsbys, bumping around in a space too big that was there to express an ambition that wasn't human scale. John needed a house to have some drama, he doesn’t want to just live in a warren of square rooms, a cardboard box with a window cut out of it, but he wants to be inspired.

Finding his house that needs some restoring

Eventually he found the house that he bought. To most people who had been working with him for a year looking for this house it didn't make any sense. At one level it did: It was untouched, no one had ever restored it or really even put a dollar into it, a decade had gone by since it was last maintained, and the house was more humble than the people working with him had come to believe that he wanted. He had privileged certain design elements so much and although this house had many of them they were on a humble scale.

It was not a place where you would hang great art. If you put a kimono on the wall of this house it would just clang. But the scale of the house was right and when he chose this house he didn't understand a lot of things, and one of the things was that there are questions of scale that are often resolved in a matter of one or two feet. If this room was one foot wider, it would be more practical. If this room was a one foot shallower, it would be more livable.

You have to trust if you are a lay person like John that an architect or a builder is going to be conscious of those things. You don't want a room that is nine foot wide by 15 feet long. It is not a usable space! You can have a room with the same square footage, but things like ”Where is the door? Where is the closet?” really matter. John’s house was designed by an architect at the beginning of his career. He later went on to design a pavilion at the Seattle Center, but when he was young this was a house that he was trying stuff out or he was getting his bones.

The other thing that he should have known: He restored a couple of houses, his mom's house was a major redo, it was gutted and awfully redone, and they took all of this stuff out and restored it to what they thought it would have looked like in 1904, and they spent a lot of money doing it and it was a lot of work, and John and his mom, just day in and day out with their overalls on and their scrapers, on an hourly basis making decisions like: ”What do we do with this little alcove? What would the trim do here to make it around this seven sided corner?”

John’s house is intact, it just hadn't been maintained. There was dry rot in the walls, the electrical stuff all needed to be upgraded, but it felt doable. John knows how to do some of this work and he knows how to contract this work. He knows how to do this work fast and easy. Most of the house is intact and he would just keep it that way. Because the work needed to happen the house was priced accordingly. It was much cheaper than anything else he had been looking at, much cheaper than any of the houses around it, and it was a no brainer: Instead of buying a house that costs this much money, he would buy a house that costs way less and then he would take that extra money to fix up the house and for the same amount of money he was prepared to pay he would have a house that he restored to his own specifications.

Mission creep, not being able to find the right tile

As they started to work on the house there was a little bit of mission creep: ”I want this, I want that!” and pretty soon it was a bigger project than he thought it would have been. One of them was a question of: This room is nine foot by 15 feet and what it really wants to be is 12 by 12, so: ”How hard is it to just move this wall over here?” - ”Well, it is not that hard!” - ”All right, well, why don't we move this wall and we will restore some balance, some Feng Shui to this space?”

Very quickly John entered into a world where he had in mind what some of the basic elements were going to be, what the tile looked like, what the bathroom fixtures looked like, and he couldn't find them on the market. He went to the tile stores, they didn't have it. What they had was 10.000 stupid-looking tiles and not what he thought was very clearly the most beautiful tile. He was not trying to get tiles that were under the Aegean Sea for 2000 years, but he wanted the selection of tiles that would have been available to the original builder of this house in 1953.

He just wanted to go to a plumbing supply store and a tile warehouse in 1953 and pick basic items from their stock selection, but those things are gone and he didn’t understand the world because he was at a tile store and there were 20.000 options that all looked exactly the same. Here is a floor that looks like it was from an Italian palazzo with black diamond elements, here is a floor from an Italian palazzo with black square elements, here is floor from an Italian palazzo with marble square elements, and they are fake Italian palazzo floors that people are putting in their McMansions or taking houses like his and ”restoring” them and putting in floors from a fake Italian palazzo.

It offends John to such a degree that he would walk out of these places and just spit on the ground. There are a lot of very easy standard fixes. People that have style in America today have decided in the last 10-15 years that white subway tile, which is to say rectangular white shiny tile, everyone loves that in their kitchens as a backsplash and in their bathroom, that became the byword, the default style, if you had a classic sensibility and you wanted to redo your bathroom or kitchen in a simple way that read to you like: ”This is vintage! This is cool! This is what would have been!” and everywhere you go you can find white subway tile’

John doesn’t want white subway tile because these bathrooms would not have had white subway tile, they wouldn't have had subway tile at all. Subway tile wasn't a thing that they used in 1953, but there would be 4” square tiles. People in 1953 would have looked at subway tiles and said: ”That is something from a subway. Why would I want that in my house for?” They would have said: ”That is the tile that they use in 1920s bungalows!” and we are living in a world now where all style is pastiche.

How the seasonality of style has changed

In the 10-20 years before John was a kid, style was a thing that went seasonally and changed utterly. The spring styles and the fall styles were totally different and genius artists were working all year long to decide that between spring and summer the length of the sleeves of dresses went down an inch and a half and that was rocking people's worlds: ”Whoa, have you seen the latest? The hemlines! I can't believe the hemlines!” The difference between a 1965 Mustang and a 1967 is a radical difference compared to the difference between a 1999 Ford Taurus and a 1997 Ford Taurus. We live in a world now where all still exist simultaneously.

You see a stylish person and if you have the ability to completely decode, you would be able to look at them and say: ”That hemline was originally introduced in 1960 as part of this collection, it didn't exist before that moment, and it was out of fashion within a year and a half, but at that time that was the hemline.” Whoever it is at Old Navy or Banana Republic who is charged with designing clothes found an example of it in an archive or just invented it off of the top of their head, and designed a thing that looked to them to be classic and cool. Ralph Lauren always had warehouses full of vintage clothes that he used as inspiration for new designs. Those big mass-production fashion houses used to go to thrift stores around the world, finding old shit and buying it and bringing it home. That is why those clothes all look so classic because they are just the ginned-up versions of old stuff.

If you look at somebody very fashionable now, you never look at them and say: ”Whoa, that is so spring 2020!”, but you look at them and you go: ”Oh, those are work boots from Redwing that were originally designed in 1930 and that is a cut of jeans that dates back to 1885 except it has been modified to look like a pair of old jeans that were modified by cool kids in 1970 and the shirt and the hat and the everything…” You can choose from a palette of everything! There is not any look anymore, there is not a now anymore, there is just an everything, except for things like bathroom design where there still are cadres of taste makers and gatekeepers.

They are determining: ”These are the cool bathroom fixtures for 2020 and this is the tile that we use!” A lot of it is driven by whoever the buyers are at Lowe's or whatever the contractors feel like is the most cost effective way to do it, but if you went into all the condos in Austin that were built between 1995 and 2015, over 20 years, you would find there was a timeline of available materials. Initially these available materials were the product of a first design. Some person put it in a kitchen that had marble countertops, cherry wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, subway tile, and mock-Italian travertine floors.

Someone did that once and it probably appeared in Architectural Digest and then someone else was like: ”That is incredible, I want that!” and pretty soon it became what all the high end places had and then pretty soon people realized that they could replicate that look by just buying slightly cheaper marble. Marble looks like marble to most people, and then it was like: ”I got marble countertops, too!” - ”Well, that marble was from Lake Como and it cost $10.000 a sheet and your marble is from Romania and it cost $50, but it does kind of look the same, frankly!”

All of a sudden all appliances were stainless steel and all floors were mock-travertine and all tile was this, this and this. Apparently no one on the consumer side cared, or John is wrong and it is truly beautiful. Maybe he doesn’t get it and we have reached the pinnacle of what a kitchen and a bathroom should look like. We are there! They should look like you took a meat grinder and you put in some faux-Mediterranean elements and some faux-Manhattan tenement elements and some the bathroom in a bank and some lab equipment and just hose it out, because that is what everything looks like.

John not being able to make a choice

What happened to John was that he became paralyzed, not just because he thought everything looked terrible, not just because he couldn't find even what seemed to be the simplest thing that was close to what he wanted, the tiles that we saw in every grandmother's bathroom throughout the 1970s that at the time we thought was corny. Knowing both of those things, knowing the truth, John could not act and do what a capable person would do in that situation, which is to say: ”All right, well this is the state of affairs, so what do I need to do? What can I choose that is the least offensive to me that I can get this done?” John was not able to do that.

What he learned over the months was that he doesn’t have a certain kind of decisiveness. In a crunch situation, if we are standing on the side of a riverbank and the flood is coming and the riverbank is caving in and there is a fire at our backs John is very decisive, he is not somebody that is going to stand there and go: ”I don't know what to do!” until the fire takes us. He can choose a course in an instant in so many situations.

But in this situation he could not settle for shitty looking tile, he could not find good tile, and so a part of him died and he slumped over and refused to choose. His contractor is just some dope who is just trying to make places, and every morning he wakes up and goes and talks to a client and they say: ”I want Cherrywood cabinets and granite countertops and Italianate floors!” and so when he meets with a client, he opens a little book that he has prepared and he is like: ”Here are the subway tiles, here are the granite countertops, pick one!”

He never has a problem with a client because that is what they all do. No one ever has a problem with people. All these houses that have been inartfully restored sell within an hour of going on the market. People look at it and they love it: ”Oh wow, it is craftsman!” - ”It is not fucking craftsmen! Are you kidding me? There is no way a craftsman thing belongs in here!” It is like someone is standing in John’s face with an air horn, but people say: ”It is great! it is amazing!” and he watched these houses sell, he watched these elements fly off the shelves.

But when John asks for what he is looking for the people in the stores just look at him like they have never heard of it. This was in every home 50 years ago, not just every of a certain kind of home, it was in every home. This was all that was available then, and now you are saying that doesn't exist? John became paralyzed and depressed and he was basically refusing to act. The contractor would say: ”Well, we need to pick a thing to finish this bathroom!” and John would say: ”I am working on it!” and he would go spend hours online and not find what he was looking for and close his computer and lay back on the bed and fall into a deep funk.

Three days later the contractor would say: ”Hey, I am still waiting on your decision about that!” - ”Yep, I am going to get that to you. Bright and early tomorrow!” and he would sit up all night looking online, trying to find anything that didn't make him want to barf, and he would not find anything and he would close the computer and heI would fall into a deep funk. He would come downstairs and do his podcasts and go for walks and work in the garden, but he would not choose.

John wanted to rebuild the house as though it had never been destroyed. He had to take it apart in order to fix the dry rot, in order to change the electricity and the plumbing because it wasn't salvageable, but when he did that he believed that he could just waltz down to the store and buy the materials he needed to put it back together and it turned out he couldn't, and he couldn't move. The fact that he didn't decide became its own albatross, so that he spent six hours a day searching for material that he couldn't find, in desperate borderline panic over the fact that he owned this house already for six months and hadn't been able to finish it and he was never going to finish it and he was not even able to see how he could finish it.

For six hours a day John was rebuking himself for not only being fussy, but for what he always felt was a kind of indecisiveness that feels like a character flaw, it feels unmasculine, it feels like a thing where George Patton was going to walk up and slap him with a leather glove and say: ”Put it together, man!” That voice in his head that is always looking for a reason to rebuke himself and hold himself in contempt has all this fuel, because all he has to do is let his mind wander for a second to think about this bathroom that is just sitting there unfinished because he wasn't able to choose a faucet because the faucets were too ugly.

John needing the right kind of help

John wasn’t able to break that chain of possession of the authority, and yet he cannot accept it and it has been a spiral to a place of total desperation where, although he has appeared to be just fine and talking on the shows about all the things that are going on in his life and having conversations and going out and doing stuff, posting on Instagram, what has been building in his heart is that perfect right-triangle of panic, self recrimination, and inability to move forward. It is very hard for John to ask for help. He did ask for help several times along the way. His friend Ben King in Portland, who is an architect, did a lot of work for him, trying to get him into this house, trying to help him fix it up, but Ben King is his own man who has a family and a job.

If John says: ”I need help picking this tile!” and a well-meaning friend comes and says: ”I found this great subway tile!” - ”No! I know that subway tile exists, believe me, I have looked already at 1000 subway tiles, it is not what I want. Here is a description of what I want!” - ”Oh, okay!” and they go look and they come back with a thing that: ”Yes, I considered that, but that is wrong for 100 reasons!” At that point the helpful friend starts to feel like this isn't worth it for them.

They are trying to help, they brought a couple of things to show him and he heaved a great sigh and said: ”I can tell you the part number of that thing at Lowe’s that you are showing me, because I have looked at it 50 times! What I need is not this. I do not need you to show me things that you found at Lowe's. What I need is for you to either have magic powers to find a thing that I have been unable to find, and shy of that, if you don't have magic powers and can't find a thing that doesn't exist, I need you to take me into your possession and to say: This decision needs to get made, these are the four options. I am going to stand here now and the two of us are going to decide!”, but John doesn’t like that and he resists it and walks out, he says: ”That is impossible. No, I cannot, no!”

Somewhere there must be a pallet of this pink tile sitting on a loading dock that has been there since 1955 and the building is abandoned, but there is some Indiana Jones of old bathroom supplies who found it and John just needs to connect with that person. This helpful friend has to be a person of tremendous power, not power to grab him or force him or yell at him or use shame or use coercion, but someone who has the inner strength to very calmly say: ”I hear all of your wailing, I hear all of your remonstrations, you are ululating, but we are going to choose a thing today and I am going to be here for you and it is going to be fine!” and there isn't anyone in John’s life who is able to do that for him.

John does have people who if he throws up his hands and falls on the floor and says: ”Just burn it all to the ground! Just burn it! Just burn everything!” will quietly make sure the lights stay on. It is not confrontation, but recognizing that John in all his opinion and ferocity and confidence in some areas is extremely vulnerable. It takes a while to get him to lash out to say: ”No, wrong!”, he maintains a facade of great patience and great forbearance. When people show him the subway tile from Lowe's for the 15th time, he doesn’t have a tantrum, but he goes: ”Oh, I have seen that. Thank you! That is from Lowe's. That is part number 67492 and it is not what I am looking for. I am looking for this, I can describe it to you exactly, I can tell you the part number in the catalog from 1955 that I have a copy of. I have a copy of the original catalog!”

People in the profession and people close to him all have the same reaction: ”Well, that doesn't exist anymore!” and they aren't able to or interested in considering the question: ”Why? Why is it not available?” John has called people that work at the tile company that used to make it and asked: ”Why don't you still make this?” - ”Oh, we don't sell it, so we stop making it!” - ”You didn't sell it 10 years ago when you stopped making it, but maybe if you made it now, it would…” - ”Well, we don't get that many orders for it, so… ”

That paralysis led John to a place where the contractor moved on and had to take other jobs and the people in his life who feel like he is someone with impossible to meet standards and tremendous personal power, are intimidated by him. The closer you get to him the more intimidated you are. John is not somebody who becomes demystified. John’s combination of formidable and broken is an awful combination and he has known a lot of people like it in his life. A lot of the people in the world that get things done, that change the world, that are the people we look at and admire, their power comes from the fact that they are intrinsically formidable, but deeply broken, and depending on how the alchemy shakes out those can be incredibly creative powers.

The Michael Jordan documentary

The documentary about Michael Jordan is really tremendous. It is not a documentary that is seeking to take down Michael Jordan, but it is a documentary that is trying to tell the story of how he is the greatest athlete in history, a documentary that loves Michael Jordan, but over the course of several episodes it becomes inescapable that Michael Jordan is a terrible person to be around. As a teammate or as a friend, he is an exhausting perfectionist, but even more he is so competitive that if you are walking down the hall with him he will run to get in front of you. If there are three guys who work at a gas station playing pitch-a-penny on the wall behind the gas station, if Michael Jordan walks by he is going to shoulder his way in and say: ”I bet $20 that I can beat you guys in three pitches!”

it is about winning and then turning and going: ”In your face!” You see him over and over again, talking. To Dan that sounds exactly like John. He will turn to a guy that works for him, that is making $6 an hour, and go: ”You owe me $20” - ”I will get it to you!” - ”Yeah, I want to see your money in my pocket!”, and it is all done in a kind of bullying, funny voice, so you are like: ”Haha! Yeah, Michael!”, but you realize in watching the show that everyone admires him, he is one of the greatest men, but he would be so hard to be around. John has known guys like that where everything is a competition and they are sore winners they beat you and then they are like: ”Haha, take that!” - ”Hey man, I was just trying to go to the bathroom. It wasn't like a thing that I wanted to get into a fucking contest!”

That brokenness in people combined with what makes them formidable is often the thing that powers the world. Whatever we aspire to: Power, peace of mind, grace, gentleness, Buddhist acceptance. Not a lot of skyscrapers have been built by people like that because skyscrapers are by definition an expression of a brokenness, for lack of a better way of describing it. If you are gentle and have Buddhist contentment you do not desire to build a skyscraper. Much of what we lionize as our great accomplishments are ludicrous on the face of it. Being great at basketball is ludicrous in a way. Who gives a shit? If Michael Jordan was at peace with himself he would have a little family and live in a modest home.

The people that are closest to John, that love him the most, cannot reconcile what they love about him with the fact that he is shattered and unable to put the pieces together himself and unwilling to let anyone help him do it and fundamentally unwilling to accept that it is worth doing or that he is worthy of not being in pain.

John’s house, which he hopes to be his temple, his place to hide, has been a source of tremendous suffering in the last six months as a completion date gets further away, as the amount of money he has spent on it goes up and up. The only saving grace is that he has learned to love to live here effectively in the spare bedroom of his daughter's mother's house, he has learned to love seeing her every day and making popcorn and living this simple existence with no place to hide, with no hand in the aesthetic that surrounds him. He is really living in someone else's closet. It has been a saving grace and almost a religious lesson, but somewhere out there is the tile he is looking for!

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